The Comforts of Home by Flannery O’Connor
In The Comforts of Home by Flannery O’Connor we have the theme of isolation, paralysis, charity, judgement, insecurity and arrogance. Taken from Everything That Rises Must Converge the story is narrated in the third person and begins with the main protagonist, Thomas looking out the window of his bedroom at his mother returning home with a young girl called Sarah Ham (or Star Drake). O’Connor’s description of Thomas looking out the window ‘Thomas withdrew to the side of the window,’ is important because very early on O’Connor is highlighting to the reader the idea that Thomas is not only withdrawn from society (or out of touch) but that his character is isolated (or stuck). Thomas is thirty-five years old and still lives with his mother, who is a widow. Ironically Thomas is upset that his mother is showing charity to Sarah, ironic because if it was not for his mother Thomas would not be living the life he is accustomed to. His mother is at his beck and call, prepares his meals for him and is supportive of all his endeavours. Thomas wants his mother to get rid of Sarah who he considers to be a parasite, though again there is a sense of irony in this. If anybody is a parasite it would appear to be Thomas. He is still living with his mother at thirty five and making no real contribution to the house.
Despite it being clear to the reader and to Thomas that Sarah does not appreciate everything that Thomas’s mother has done for her, Thomas’s mother still cannot find it in her heart to throw Sarah out of the house. This frustrates Thomas who unlike his mother is not prepared to give any charity to Sarah (or to others). He is tormented by the voice of his father (in his head), who he knows would handle things differently and who would have made sure that Sarah never entered the house in the first place. Though Thomas’s father is dead he plays an important role in the story. It is from his father that Thomas has inherited his reasoning (or logic), and he is as arrogant and as self-righteous as his father was. When Thomas feels threatened (as he does by Sarah), he tends to react as his father would react, with harsh judgements, particularly towards his mother. He tells her that ‘If you bring that girl back into this house, I leave. You can choose – her or me,’ and he also views his mother as ‘idiotic.’ At no point in the story does he think about how he treats his mother (selfishness). However the inferiority that Thomas feels (when listening to his father’s voice) does highlight to the reader the idea of powerlessness within Thomas. There is a sense that Thomas is stuck or paralyzed.
Thomas’s relationship with Sarah is also interesting. There is no doubting that she is a flirt and on several occasions she tries to flirt with or charm Thomas. However Thomas doesn’t seem to be interested or if he is, it would appear (as some critics have suggested) that he is suppressing his own sexual desires. When he puts the gun in Sarah’s purse the narrator tells the reader that Thomas ‘grabbed the red pocketbook. It had a skin-like feel to his touch and as it opened he caught an unmistakable odour of the girl. Wincing he thrust in the gun and then drew back.’ This description is important because (to some critics) it is suggestive of sexual contact, O’Connor utilizing the gun as phallic symbolism. Thomas is also left speechless when Sarah flirts with him when he is driving her back to the old woman’s house. He knows what he wants to say to her but because she is flirting with him, he seems unable to handle Sarah, again the idea of Thomas repressing his sexual desires.
Both Thomas and his mother are guilty of judging people. Thomas automatically sees or looks for the bad in the people, while his mother is the opposite, she tries to find the good in a person. Despite looking for different things in people what Thomas and his mother do have in common is the fact that they both tend to judge people without truly knowing the person. Also Thomas’s judgement of Sarah (being a slut and parasite) tells the reader more about Thomas than it does about Sarah. It is through Thomas’s judgement or opinion of Sarah that the reader learns that Thomas is insecure and mistrusting of others and needs to ridicule or judge others badly, to boost his own self esteem.
The idea of judgement (of others) really becomes noticeable at the end of the story when Farebrother opens the door and comes into the house. He sees that Thomas has killed his mother and he immediately believes that Thomas planned to kill his mother and put the blame onto Sarah. At no stage does he consider the death to have been an accident. This inaccurate judgement is important because now it is Thomas who is being judged rather than him judging others. Farebrother now, like Thomas has done previously, is judging others in an unfavourable light without actually knowing the truth. He is also displaying the same arrogance, that Thomas had been guilty of showing throughout the story. Just as Thomas had done, Farebrother is now judging someone to boost his own self esteem. There is also a hint of irony in Farebrother’s name, if anything he isn’t being fair to Thomas, mirroring how unfair or unkind Thomas has been to others.